Belle of the Ball

The Cast: Leatherwood (a Sgt.), Lewis (My Fire Team Leader), Myself (Ordered to).

Devil dogs, happy birthday!!!

November 10th is quite possibly the best day of the year. This is the day, where, across the globe, Marines of all ages, wherever they are, celebrate the founding of the great and mighty United States Marine Corps. It’s a grand event. As often as can be afforded by finances and facilities, a ball is held in all manner of locales. There is always one to be found, somewhere. And, there is pomp and circumstance enough for all.

Stories are shared and, memories are relived. There is a cake cutting ceremony, speeches, food, booze (for those who drink—I don’t), music and dancing… It truly is a grand day to be a Marine. My first Marine Corps birthday was while I was still in Infantry School—it was also my graduation day. It was something.

All of us lil’ Devil Pups were assembled onto our parade deck for early morning chow. A foodservice tray was rolled out. On top of it was a large sheet cake. Our trainers read from the required texts (one being Gen. John A. Lejeune’s birthday message and the other a birthday message from the current Commandant), then the cake cutting ceremony—this is one of the best parts.

For the cake cutting ceremony, you have the oldest and the youngest Marines (who are present) come forward. The oldest Marine cuts the cake and hands the first slice over to the youngest Marine. This represents a few things: The old handing/passing on knowledge and tradition to the young. And, the handing over of the Corps to the next generation. It is quite touching.

For this first ceremony, it was early and dark outside. A Ka-Bar (the traditional Marine fighting knife) was used to cut the cake. The square of cake was handed over to the youngest in our company. He was told to quickly eat it. He did (he shoveled the whole thing into his mouth—it’s a military thing: eat it now, taste it later). The cake was wheeled away and the company headed to morning chow. We still had the day’s events to complete. After all, it was still our graduation day. Born an 0311 Infantry Grunt on my Corps’ birthday. Ooorah!

U.S.M.C. Ka-Bar fighting knife.
Image curated from US Wings.

The next year I was able to attend an actual Marine Corps Ball. It was awesome. My wife and I showed up, she looked fantastic. It was one of the fanciest events I had ever attended. The food was good, there were commemorative glasses for those who had bought tickets (we had). Afterward, my wife and I acquired some of the centerpieces (just some miniature American and U.S.M.C. flags on a stand—we still have them). The ceremony was impressive and everyone seemed to have a good time. The celebrating was heavy but nothing ever got out of control—or even close to it. I was impressed by all of it.

Somehow, during the night’s festivities, my wife mentioned—to those at the table—that I had been a former professional ballet dancer. That did two things: First, it did not go over well (for me). Second, it did not go over well (for me). Now, I know that it appears that I just repeated myself, but the fact that it did not go over well (for me), is such an important bit of information that I felt I had to mention it again. When you are part of such an elite group of individuals, such as the United States Marine Corps, a little thing like being a professional ballet dancer warrants, well… Teasing (at the very least).

Oh my goodness. As soon as the words ‘professional ballet dancer’ left the lips of my wife the grins that ever so slowly began to grow on the faces of those at my table began to envelop their owners’ faces. And, in particular, the look in the eyes of one of the sergeants was almost pure evil. I say pure evil because it had all the malevolance that evil would. However, I was also detecting high levels of well-well-well-what-do-we-have-here? in that sergeant’s grin. I had never felt more helpless in my entire life.

Throughout the evening, that sergeant, a Sgt. Leatherwood, would order me to ‘ballet’ for him. ‘Ballet’? How does one just ‘ballet’? Unfortunately, he ‘needed’ to see it. I tried to avoid having to ‘ballet’ for him by explaining that there was no room for me to perform anything. There were people dancing and such. Plus, no matter how you look at it, when you observe something as graceful as ballet, few of the moves may appear ‘manly’. I needed an out. The only one I had was the end of the evening and Sgt. Leatherwood leaving early.

After some time, it looked like Leatherwood had disappeared, and so, I was I safe. Nope. No, I was not that lucky. He had just moved from sight for a time. Plus, Cpl. Lewis really wanted to see the ‘ballet’ also. I would later learn that he was a martial arts instructor, and so, had a different reason for witnessing my potential physical prowess.

The band was packing up, the guests had all but disappeared, the gathering was now down to a handful of Marines and their dates. So, I was ordered to ‘ballet’ for Sgt. Leatherwood. I had no way out. It was time to perform. Now, as I have mentioned, few of the moves of the art that is ballet are ‘manly’. I needed to do something so mindblowing that they would have to shut their faces—forever. I could only think of one: Barrel turns.

Okay, if you didn’t watch the above link, fine. A barrel turn is one of the moves where the male dancer gets to show off his power. He throws out one leg as he propels himself into the air while simultaneously turning around upon landing. Then repeat as long you wish—or have room on stage. Done well, this is an impressive maneuver. What people would call a ‘crowd pleaser’. This is what I did. In my dress blues.

Directly in front of where the band had been playing there was a small patch of tiled floor that had been designated for dancing. Sgt. Leatherwood and Cpl. Lewis gladly helped make room for me by asking those that remained to clear the way—now, they were interested. It was clear that Leatherwood and Lewis were looking forward to seeing me make a fool of myself. The opportunity to witness a young Marine do something stupid that they could then tell and retell others—for a long time—was too tempting to pass up. I understood. I didn’t like it. But, I understood.

With the floor cleared I moved to a corner of the dance floor and took up my position. My arms moved to a modified middle third position, my left leg stretched forward, foot flexed into a tendu devant (all while wearing my high gloss Corfams, and again, still in my full dress blues—and there is not much room for flexibility in them). Next thing my superiors were witnessing was the newest member of their company repeatedly leaping into the air with arms and legs launching out to help with my momentum while whipping about the small patch of dance floor. It took only moments to complete, but, once I had hit my finale pose, my would-be tormentor-brothers gave me a round of applause.

Sgt. Leathwood smiled, clapped me on my back, and said, “I had no doubt you could do it.”

Keeping the world safe for 246 years, and counting.

On a completely different topic: With Christmas coming in a little over a month, feel free to make a child’s Christmas a good one, by donating to the Marine Corps Toys for Tots program. For more information, you can visit here or find your local campaign here.

This has always been one of my favorite commercials—of all time.

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